Boost Productivity with IoT Smart Buttons and Power Automate

Enterprises today look to new ways to automate and extend their business processes. Many find great success with using Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow) or by leveraging a collection of apps and services in the Power Platform and Office 365.

IoT platforms are slowly becoming a part of this frontier. As companies look to scale their operations, the increasingly look to IoT for modern solutions.

Although IoT systems are still relatively new and often riddled with technological challenges such as connectivity, security and longevity, there are devices available on the market that can help enterprises carry-out a wide range of actions in just a few easy steps.

Smart buttons are one of those relatively low-cost and programmable IoT devices that can be set-up in 5 minutes! These buttons typically offer three events: single push, double push and hold. Each event can perform multiple actions such as running a Power Automate workflow.

I’ve been chasing these small IoT devices since 2017 and in that time I’ve explored a number of options made by various brands. There is a good selection of brands that make smart buttons including Flic, goButton, AWS IoT Button and others. Out of all of these, Flic certainly stands out by offering a Power Automate (Flow) integration. Their buttons are easy to use and I’m impressed by how quickly they can be hooked-up to a Flow action.

Set up smart buttons with Power Automate actions

Setting up a Flic button is self explanatory: just buy one, install Flic App on your mobile phone, create an account and follow the steps below to assign a Microsoft Flow trigger to your button.

Flic smart button

Select your button to setup actions

My Flic Power Automate Trigger

Select the desired event

Smart Button - add flow to your event

Add Flow to your event

As your final step, you will create a flow to respond to your preferred event. Flic’s trigger action, “When a Flic is Pressed”, links button with a desired action and triggers the workflow:

When a Flic is pressed action

What are the uses for smart buttons?

Easy enough? Let’s delve into some possible scenarios for using these little IoT devices in enterprises:

Replenish and re-order

Assign a serial number for a consumable product or a spare part to each button and place an order with a single click.

Send emergency alerts

Place buttons in various locations around the worksite and notify others of an emergency with a push of a button.

Book a meeting room

Place a button in a meeting room and automatically create a Microsoft Teams meeting with a push of a button.

Track employee happiness or customer satisfaction

Monitor sentiments around the office by placing two buttons in a single location to track happy/sad faces.

There are many more ways these IoT switches can bring functional intelligence to enterprises. Is your company considering adding smart buttons? I’d like to hear your thoughts on how these devices can bring value to your organization.

 

From Document Management to Knowledge Management: How AI is Changing the SharePoint Landscape

Towards the end of 2019, Microsoft announced it’s first new service since the launch of Microsoft Teams: Project Cortex. This new initiative has the potential of becoming a game-changer in how we contextualize corporate content. Most notably, Project Cortex focuses on creating Knowledge Networks that will help organizations enable true Knowledge Management across the enterprise.

Now, if all of that sounds like a whole lot of buzzwords, you’re not alone. In this article, I’ll explain how AI (Artificial Intelligence) will soon help us turn corporate information into knowledge and what you can do to prepare.

From Data Management to Information Management in SharePoint

Before we dive into the subject of AI in SharePoint, let’s take a moment to appreciate how far SharePoint adoption has evolved.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were all over Document Management. Back in those early SharePoint days, organizations saw the potential to use the Microsoft-powered technology as a considerably improved file share replacement. Full of anticipation, they created document libraries, added folder structures and uploaded their corporate documents from other platforms (for instance, Lotus Notes) to SharePoint. For some, this approach paid off because SharePoint Search was powerful enough to index documents and search based on keywords.

Others soon realized that the real power of SharePoint lies elsewhere. Once they went beyond simple keyword search and explored the metadata, classifications and information architecture, they often found that they were able to achieve much more than just managing documents. They started to manage information.

That’s how we arrived at Information Management: the next logical step after tackling Document Management. Where Document Management concentrates on the administration of documents in an enterprise, Information Management goes far beyond that. It covers not just documents, but news, articles, announcements, as well as items in a knowledge base and data records. You can look at Information Management as a kind of umbrella item that includes Document Management.

What information management looks like in practice

Today, when an organization publishes an article or an announcement, it usually does so by publishing a new modern page in SharePoint rather than a document. As the article or announcement is based on a modern page, it uses a specific Content Type (for example, Corporate News) and metadata to tag content.

Here is an example. The metadata used to tag a news article announcing the hire of a new HR Director could look like this:

  • Audience: All staff
  • Type of Content: News
  • Scope: Internal
  • Location: North America
  • Department: HR
  • Publisher: HR
  • Confidentiality: Public
  • Valid until: February 28th, 2020
  • Responsible: Mark Hammond (CEO)

Ideally, all of the content you publish in SharePoint contains tags and follows a document structure. Tagging ensures that your organization can work with information it stores. For example, the organization can create rules to prioritize this HR announcement to employees it is most relevant to, in this case, those located in North America and those working in the HR department. Tagging with metadata is the only way to ensure that the organization can create rules or business processes that use the information, like a tailored publication process regarding corporate news or applying information protection policies to corporate business reports.

Technically, rules can be based on queries and those queries rely on Content Types to determine that a document is (for example) a business report. Humans can recognize a business report by looking at the document, rules and queries can’t.

 

How AI turns Information Management into Knowledge Management

If you have been working with SharePoint for a long time, this is probably nothing new. What I just explained is the established best practice for Information Management. And that’s part of the problem! Organizations have been doing this for years, but the working style has changed. Many requirements of the modern Information Management systems just can’t be accomplished by just following the established best practice. That’s because Information Management is transitioning to Knowledge Management. What’s the difference between those two, you might ask? Information Management connects content to structures such as Content Types or metadata. On the other hand, Knowledge Management connects content to people.

The goal of Knowledge Management is to make knowledge sharable and actionable within the organization. From a technical standpoint, Information Management utilizes SharePoint Search, Content Types and metadata to help employees find information quickly.

Knowledge Management goes far beyond that by making information digestible and shareable, and not just searchable. It builds connections between information items to create a complex knowledge network. Interweaving content this way often is far too complex and time-consuming for humans, so Project Cortex will use AI to do it.

And here we’ve come a full circle! As the complex knowledge network takes shape, information, which is the foundation of knowledge, needs to be machine-recognizable. Even smart AI-powered bots rely on criteria to identify content, which is why Project Cortex’ AI model needs training.

Project Cortex - AI model training

SharePoint AI models require training

 

Adding context to SharePoint information with AI

Here is an example of how this will look like in real life. The following screenshot shows a draft of a Corporate News article about a new project called Planet Blue. Since our corporate team has already created a project site and started to work on that project, a bot equipped with Artificial Intelligence can link the News item with the corresponding Planet Blue project site, the members and the associated resources. Readers can hover over the word Planet Blue to automatically get additional insights on a topic card. But there is more. The AI bot not only creates a link between the keyword and the project site but also generates a topic page around the project including a description, a list of project members, resources etc. This topic page will update on ongoing basis.

Topic Card in Project Cortex SharePoint

Topic Cards add context to articles and documents published in SharePoint.

As AI-powered bots create a knowledge network (the previously mentioned interweaving of content), a topic page will also display related items and topics, helping humans understand the context, the scope of information and how the information relates to other information items. You can see an example of that below:

SharePoint Knowledge Network

Knowledge Network adds context to documents.

This is just one way to make knowledge more digestible for employees. Project Cortex combines knowledge from many different sources and automatically summarizes it in a way that’s easy to digest by humans. It links related pieces of information and puts it all in context. A single piece of information becomes a part of a complex knowledge network that clearly shows the full context and scope. That’s how companies will be able to turn information into employee knowledge.

Auto-populate document metadata

Project Cortex uses information from different sources to build complex knowledge networks, and one of those sources are documents. Project Cortex will be able to extract information from uploaded documents and fill-in metadata automatically (up to a certain extent). This is what you can see in the screenshots below.

Here’s what a document with no distinct metadata might look like when uploaded:

Adding metadata to documents recently uploaded to SharePoint

Recently uploaded document with no metadata

A few seconds later, the smart AI automatically adds metadata:

Project Cortex automatically adds metadata to files

AI autofills document metadata

While this does not mean that adding metadata (which is an unloved task of many Information Workers) will become obsolete once Project Cortex is available, it shows that even modern technology like Project Cortex still relies on existing technology akin to metadata tags and Content Types.

To achieve this, Project Cortex and the underlying AI technology requires training so that it can recognize new information (for example, which documents belong to a specific project). This is done by creating a model in the new Content Centers, which uses the already existing AI Builder functionality in PowerApps and Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow).

Project Cortex - Content Center

AI-powered Content Center

How to prepare for Project Cortex?

The interesting question is, what can organizations do to prepare for Project Cortex launch?

Project Cortex uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to extract information from documents and to build a knowledge network. However, it can’t work miracles! Under the hood, Project Cortex still relies on metadata and presumably Content Types. Once Project Cortex is available, likely in Q1/2020, I assume that many organizations will import their existing documents to see how Project Cortex can help them with Knowledge Management. And that is exactly where organizations can start today. The better your current information is structured and tagged, the easier it will be to train the AI bots of Project Cortex.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting to update your Content Types and metadata terms just to be prepared for the launch of Project Cortex. It is actually the other way around. If you keep your Content Types and metadata terms up to date and tag your documents accordingly, there will be an immediate benefit for your organization and your staff – and your start with Project Cortex will be much smoother.

At the time of writing this (January 2020), there is still too little information available to provide more detailed recommendations. The only thing we know for sure is that Power Automate, PowerApps and AI Builder will be used to do the heavy lifting under the hood. Based on the videos shared during and after Microsoft Ignite, I’m guessing that Project Cortex will take advantage of Managed Metadata as well. And because it is established best practice to use Content Types to ensure consistent usage of metadata, I assume Project Cortex will take advantage of Content Types as well. Hopefully, Microsoft will also use this opportunity to modernize the Term Store and the Content Type hub.

Best Practices regarding metadata and Content Types

Whenever I support customers who are migrating to SharePoint, I conduct at least two (2) workshops at the very beginning of the projects. The first one is around best practices for metadata and the second focuses on Content Types. My recommendation is this: work with your corporate entities and departments to identify the types of documents in use. When compiling your list, consider all document types such as manuals, invoices, reports, contracts, announcements or news. Create a corresponding Content Type for each identified type of document and take advantage of Content Type inheritance. Your corporate Content Types should be stored in the Content Type hub to ensure they can be used throughout the entire organization.

Once you’ve identified all document types, continue working on identifying corporate metadata terms and structure them within Term Sets and Term Groups. Next, assign Term Sets to Content Types and configure your document libraries to use Content Types.

There is one question that comes up each time I deliver my Content Type workshop. I am asked how many Term Sets should be used per Content Type and how many of those should be required. Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to this question. As a rule of thumb, I recommend not to use more than 10 Term Sets per Content Type.

There are also no definitive answers regarding the number of required metadata. I recommend to use  only as much metadata as necessary. Ultimately, your metadata needs depend on the types of documents and on how those documents are used. For example, a corporate handbook usually needs less required metadata compared to a contract or an invoice. Also, be mindful of user experience. The more required metadata users need to provide when uploading a document, the more annoying the activity.

Summary

Project Cortex will be an exciting addition to Office 365, and I admit that I can’t wait until it is available. You might know that I am an advocate for Document Management, and I have been promoting Document Management since I became a SharePoint consultant many years ago. Project Cortex will definitely support organizations in transitioning from Information Management to Knowledge Management, but this will come with a price tag. Information still needs to be structured, and AI will require proper and thorough training. The better the training, the better the results, but if the AI model is trained poorly, you can’t expect stunning results.

If you want prepare for the launch of Project Cortex, start by assessing how metadata and Content Types are used in your organization. If you encounter gaps or areas in need of improvement, update your Managed Metadata structure and/or your Content Type structure and configure document libraries to use Content Types!

The DevFacto team is closely monitoring the progress of Project Cortex, and we are already working on guidelines and best practices to support organizations once Project Cortex is available. If you have questions or want prepare your organization for the Project Cortex, launch, get in touch with us.

References

Project Cortex – Your knowledge network in Microsoft 365

Introducing Project Cortex

Mastering the Art of SharePoint Document Management implementation

Are folders in SharePoint Ancient Technology?

A Guide to Managing SharePoint Migrations

Clients often ask me how to get the most business value out of SharePoint migrations. This topic is near and dear to my heart and I speak about it often at various SharePoint events, most recently at the SPFest in Seattle and SharePoint Saturdays in Calgary, and Toronto. If you’re considering a SharePoint upgrade or a SharePoint migration, this guide is for you. I’ve put it together to help you fully realize the potential that’s hiding in your intranet. In it, you’ll learn how to plan for a migration to maximize the opportunities from modernizing your SharePoint environment.

Why is Migrating SharePoint so important?

SharePoint Online (part of the Office 365 family of applications) has been for around 8 years. It launched globally on June 28th, 2011, and almost a decade later it is certainly a success story for Microsoft. Over that time, many organizations bit the bullet and migrated their corporate intranets to SharePoint Online. Others had good reasons for staying on-premises and kept their existing SharePoint environment away from the cloud. But with ageing intranets and end of extended support in sight (SharePoint 2010 end of life is coming in October 2020), those organizations have been reconsidering their options: upgrading to SharePoint 2019 on-premises or migrating to SharePoint Online. No matter which route you take, one thing is certain – you’re about to embark on a SharePoint migration.

While this might sound overwhelming at first, but don’t worry. This is a chance to go beyond just a lift-and-shift and modernize the way your organization works. If your organization is still using older versions of SharePoint, it’s structure likely needs an overhaul. That’s because the way we worked 5-10 years ago is quite different than the way we work now. The new connected, adaptable workplace depends on modern environments like SharePoint Online that bring a modern digital workplace experience to the entire organization.

Build your SharePoint Migration Team

In any SharePoint migration someone needs to do the planning, and someone needs to do the work. Migrations are managed like common IT projects, and this is the ideal Migration Team should consist of:

  • Migration Lead: Responsible for leading the migration and the migration team, usually reports to the executive board.
  • Project Manager: Responsible for managing staffing, roles and the project plan.
  • Information Architect: Responsible for creating the IA in the target environment. Information Architect needs to be a member of each team dealing with intranet modernizations; works closely with the Solution Architect.
  • Solution Architect: Responsible for migrating business solutions; needs to be a member of each team dealing with intranet modernizations; works closely with the Information Architect.
  • Migration Expert: Responsible for performing the migration and/or supporting teams during the migration; provides expert knowledge regarding using the designated migration tool.
  • Site Owners: Owners of the most important sites stay informed on migration planning and migration execution; sometimes they migrate their sites on their own.
  • Communication Expert: Responsible for any kind of communication, news and announcements regarding the migration. This person should be an expert in corporate communication. They’ll tailor communication to the target audiences and drive user adoption.
  • Technical Trainer: If required, provides technical knowledge transfer to members of the migration team and/or support team.
  • Support Expert: Member of the corporate support team. Needs to understand the project, as her team will take over once the migration is finished.
  • Adoption & Change Management Expert: User adoption campaigns are a critical element in almost all migration projects. A change management expert will typically plan change management and adoption campaigns.

As I mentioned before, this is the idealized composition of a migration team. For your migration, you might not need all of those roles, but I highly recommend following this list. In my experience, underestimating the importance of a dedicated migration team jeopardizes the chance for migration success.

To sum it up: If you are planning a migration to a newer version of SharePoint or SharePoint Online, treat this move as a substantial internal project. Start by staffing your migration team. Its members should be experts in their respective areas and will work together to create the project plan and a detailed migration plan. Don’t underestimate the importance of internal communication. Proper and tailored communication is crucial. This part of the project has a significant impact on the user-acceptance and the success of the entire migration. Migrations managed just by the corporate IT team should be an absolute exception rather than the usual approach.

Refresh your Business Solutions

Many organizations use line-of-business solutions of different complexity. Examples range from a basic Request for Vacation process all the way to a sophisticated custom CRM system. Presumably, those business applications built around the time when the corporate intranet got launched. If that was between 5 to 10 years ago, it is likely that those business applications use a different user interface paradigm, an outmoded design and may lack some useful functions (i.e. enhanced security, artificial intelligence, media support, voice recognition, OCR, improved database support, enhanced integration with 3rd party systems) which were too complex to build at the time.

Today, modern environments like Windows Azure not only provide great options to host LOB applications, but also offer a tremendous amount of services that can be used to enhance most LOB applications. Most, if not all, Azure services offer an easy to use API which makes it relatively straightforward to integrate a specific Azure service with an existing LOB application. Even if no additional functions are needed, you can boost performance with Windows Azure’s tailored storage options. Also, most Azure services can be managed and configured through the Azure portal. This offers additional benefits since business logic, sensitive business data and administration can be separated to provide an extra layer of security. One of the modern security concepts propagates that data and content should be kept separate from administrative tasks.

Windows Azure can host your Line of Business applications for a seamless SharePoint Online experience

Modernize SharePoint Structure

If your corporate intranet is more than 5 years old, it likely doesn’t reflect your current organizational structure. Using a deeply nested subsite structure will result in a considerable amount of work to update the structure (e.g. sites need to be moved from one Site-Collection to another). Today, intranets are not using a subsite structure anymore. Microsoft’s recommendation favors multiple Site Collections with just a root site over Site Collections with a deeply nested subsite structure.

A modern site structure provides many benefits that support the contemporary working style of today’s workforce. Here are some examples: flexible content distribution (like corporate news) based on target audiences, clear separation of the physical (technical) architecture from the logical architecture (applied to the main navigation), SharePoint Hub sites, flexible creation of collaboration environments using multiple repositories (like a project site including a Microsoft Teams team or Office 365 group) and easier management of sites (even though there will be more sites and Site-Collections). If your teams still work with classic teams sites, you’d be amazed by the power, efficiency and user-experience of a modern collaboration environment that ties together SharePoint Online, Microsoft Teams, Office 365 Groups and Yammer.

Each time I perform an assessment of a corporate intranet prior to a migration, I thoroughly check the site structure. Whenever I find that the site structure is based on subsites or/and the structure hasn’t been updated for a long time, I strongly recommend adding a site structure modernization activity to the migration plan.

To sum it up: A modern workspace requires a modern site structure. The times we must be very careful with content database sizes are finally over. Today, a modern digital workspace needs to be flexible. A modernized structure based on modern site templates provides many benefits that organizations can use to reduce maintenance costs, improve efficiency, increase user acceptance and ensure that changes to the underlying structure can be applied without starting a substantial internal IT maintenance project.

SharePoint Online Modern Site Template

SharePoint Online Modern Site Template

Revisit Metadata and Content Types

Each organization works with documents of different kinds. Those that use SharePoint as their intranet platform recognize the power that comes from associating Managed Metadata and Content Types with types of corporate documents. However, most organizations don’t update their Managed Metadata structure or their Content Types very often.

Whenever I do my pre-migration assessments, I usually check the Term Store and the Content Type hub. Content Types can only show their full potential if Managed Metadata terms and Content Types are up to date. Structural changes in an organization, new teams, new products, or new projects often require updates to the existing Content Type structure (which includes metadata). In many organizations, a corporate governance committee is responsible for keeping them up to date. If you are planning a migration, check with your corporate Governance Committee and verify the status of Content Types.

Usually, dealing with updated Content Types (which can include an updated metadata structure) during a migration is much easier than re-assigning documents after the fact, especially if you utilize modern migration tools like Sharegate. Best of all, you’ll make a positive impact on user search experience, content distribution and line-of-business applications as they all heavily rely on metadata.

Why are Content Types so important?

You might be wondering why I still think proper metadata and an elaborate Content Type structure are important for organizations. After all, SharePoint Search appears to be smart enough to index content thoroughly and to provide relevant search results without applying metadata to documents. What’s more, the modern SharePoint Search results page doesn’t take advantage of custom search refiners as the classic search results page does.

That’s a fair statement and technically, this is correct. The SharePoint Search algorithm which indexes content is very smart and the OOTB search results that don’t use custom metadata are surprisingly good. However, a proper metadata structure isn’t used just to improve the SharePoint Search results. Content management, content distribution, workflows and line of business applications all rely on metadata. And if the organizations uses the so-called search-driven applications (like ‘My documents’ or ‘2019 Business Reports’), proper metadata tagging is required. While modern SharePoint Search results page does not support custom refiners yet, that is about to change soon!

To sum it up: A proper metadata structure and tailored Content Types are a must for any modern digital workplace. Existing AI isn’t yet good enough to do this reliably. Since metadata and Content Types are rarely updated in older SharePoint implementations, a migration is a chance to revisit their structure. This will help you ensure that your documents are associated with the right Content Type.

Take Workplace Collaboration to the Next Level

Looking back a few years ago, when collaboration was still in its infancy, organizations considered customized team sites based on a classic site template a great achievement. Don’t get me wrong – classic team sites had many benefits, but they won’t take collaboration to the next level. Younger generations, that are new to the workplace, expect usable and intuitive solutions. The top names in tech invest heavily in this area to attract the best talent. While the same isn’t always possible for all organizations, commitment to increasing workplace collaboration certainly is.

Modern environments like SharePoint Online allow to build custom collaboration environments tailored exactly to the needs of teams. When compared to classic team sites, they dramatically reduce distracting context switching and improve productivity.

MIcrosoft 365 Universal Toolkit for Teamwork

Microsoft 365: Universal Toolkit for Teamwork

To sum it up: If you’re using classic team sites or custom site templates to support collaboration in your organization, I highly recommend that you don’t simply migrate them to your new SharePoint environment, be it SharePoint on-premises or SharePoint Online. Instead, do a collaboration assessment and plan a collaboration environment that’s right for the way your organization works. Rather, migrate existing collaboration environments (i.e. classic team sites) “as is” but ensure that new ones are build based on your modernized approach.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that a migration from an established corporate intranet to a new platform is a big move for any organization – and, as any big move, it comes with a price tag. Saving on maintenance costs holds a huge appeal for those who move their intranets to the cloud, but a migration can be so much more than that.

I highly encourage looking at various aspects of your intranet to ensure that the costs pay off quickly. Believe it or not, but most corporate intranets scheduled for migration have a high potential for modernizations. If I was to rank them, updated metadata and Content Types would be top of the list, closely followed by updates to the existing site structure, social features and targeting audiences with content distribution.

A pre-migration assessment will help you identify areas with the highest potential for positive business impact. Once you have the options clearly laid out, it will be much easier to demonstrate and value of a reimagined collaboration space to your leadership team.

Further reading:

 

 

Getting Started with SharePoint Site Designs and Site Scripts

SharePoint Site Designs and Site Scripts are changing the way end-users interact with SharePoint. These relatively new SharePoint features let users create and deploy a site based on a customized template in just a few clicks. They reduce the time spent on site creation by introducing automation but also help standardize sites based on department or purpose use. If you’re curious about SharePoint Site Designs and Site Scripts and want to get started, read on!

But before we dive in let me take you back a couple of weeks.

SharePoint Sites Made Easy

It was a hot sunny afternoon and I was enjoying grilling burgers for a family gathering, when a thought came to mind: making SharePoint sites (my day job) isn’t all that different from making burgers. Weird, right?

Well, a burger typically contains two base ingredients: a patty and a bun. Past that, it’s all about customization and adding your personalized flavour: condiments, veggies, cheese and additional meat. This is in fact a lot like SharePoint. SharePoint’s base is made up of the Site and its Security Groups, while the individual flavours come from customizable elements like custom content types, custom columns, custom libraries, or custom lists.

As I continued to think about the similarities between making a burger and creating a SharePoint site, I recalled a capability that I used a lot back in SharePoint Server 2007 – SharePoint Server 2010. Those older SharePoint versions allowed you to save a site as a template. It was a relatively straightforward approach that helped jumpstart the site creation process and reduced the redundant configuration tasks of setting up a site. It was like picking up the perfect, customized straight from a production line.

In SharePoint 2007, when you navigated to Site Settings, and clicked the Save Site as a Template an exportable SharePoint Template (STP) file would be available. Whereas in SharePoint 2010, this approach created an exportable Windows SharePoint (WSP) file. Both methods were helpful in deploying packaged functionality to SharePoint. The difference between the two file formats was that Microsoft was moving towards a solution framework for SharePoint 2010 where were kept within a Site Collection gallery rather than in a Farm gallery. But there was a caveat to this templating approach. SharePoint Site Collection required the Publishing site feature to remain deactivated.

Fast forward to SharePoint Online with its Site Designs and Site Scripts. I like to think of them as an alternative to provisioning site artifacts to Modern SharePoint sites. Site Designsare a template of sorts. As of August 2019, you can create a maximum of a 100 Site Designs and 100 Site Scripts in an Office 365 tenant.

What are SharePoint Site Designs and Site Scripts?

A Site Design is created in PowerShell format. It can store multiple Site Scripts that contain sets of configuration actions. Actions or sub actions can involve operations such as creating lists, creating libraries, creating content types, creating columns, calling a flow, joining site to a hub site, and granting users to a security role. They can be selected and applied to a site by a Site Owner. When creating a Site Design, you’ll specify the Title, Description, Thumbnail Picture, and Web template (Team Site or Communication Site).

A Site Script is created in a JSON format. JSON stands for JavaScript Object Notation structures information in a way that’s easy to read at a glance. There are good examples of SharePoint Site Scripts on GitHub. You can review examples and combine them to create your own Site Script. You can also use  third party tools such as Site Designs Studio or SharePoint Site Designer to reduce the complex task to construct a JSON object.

Creating a Site Script

Creating a Site Design and Site Script can be a bit complex as it requires some upfront time to determine what configurable actions you want to perform. Actions are specified by the use of “verb” value. The JSON schema for Site Script is as follows:

{
    "$schema": "schema.json",
    "actions": [
        ...
        <one or more verb actions>
        ...
    ],
    "bindata": { },
    "version": 1
};

Below is a list of the actions that can be performed:

  1. Creating a new SharePoint list
  2. Add a new site column
  3. Add a new content type
  4. Add a navigation link (on the Quick Launch)
  5. Remove a navigation link (from the Quick Launch)
  6. Apply a theme to the site
  7. Set branding properties
  8. Set a site logo
  9. Join a hub site
  10. Install and add-in or solution
  11. Register an extension
  12. Activate a feature
  13. Trigger a Microsoft Flow
  14. Configure regional settings
  15. Add users to SharePoint Groups
  16. Manage guest access

If your requirements are complex, you can use Microsoft Flow to expand the capabilities of Site Designs and Site Scripts. You can learn more about the syntax on how to apply these actions to your Site Script, by reading the JSON schema reference.

I’ve created a sample below to demonstrate how to construct a Site Script. In my example, this Site Script will contain the following actions and for my use case scenario will be applicable for new sites created for the Information Services department.

  1. Create Custom Site Columns
    • Policy Owner (People Picker)
    • Policy Type (Choice)
    • Policy Expiry Date (DateTime)
  2. Create a Custom Site Content Type
  3. Add the Custom Site Columns to the Custom Site Content Type
  4. Create a Document Library titled as Deliverable Documents
  5. Create a Task List titled Tasks
  6. Create a Calendar List titled Calendar
  7. Add the Custom Site Content Type to the Shared Documents Library
  8. Create a Public View in the Shared Documents Library
  9. Add new links to the Quick Launch
  10. Join the site to a Department’s hub site
  11. Grant one user to the site as an Owner
  12. Grant another user to the site as a Member

Sample Site Script

{
    "$schema": "schema.json",
        "actions": [
            {
                "verb": "createSiteColumn",
                "fieldType": "User",
                "internalName": "PolicyOwner",
                "displayName": "Policy Owner", 
                "isRequired": false,
                "group": "DevFacto IS Custom Columns",
                "enforceUnique": false
            },
            {
                "verb": "createSiteColumnXml",
                "schemaXml": "<Field Type=\"Choice\" DisplayName=\"Policy Type\" Required=\"FALSE\" Format=\"Dropdown\" StaticName=\"PolicyType\" Name=\"PolicyType\"><Default></Default><CHOICES><CHOICE>Policy</CHOICE><CHOICE>Procedure</CHOICE></CHOICES></Field>"
            }, 
            {
                "verb": "createSiteColumn",
                "fieldType": "DateTime",
                "internalName": "PolicyExpiryDate",
                "displayName": "Policy Expiry Date",
                "isRequired": false,
                "group": "DevFacto IS Custom Columns"
                
            },
            {
                "verb": "createContentType",
                "name": "Policy",
                "description": "Policy Document",
                "parentName": "Document",
                "hidden": false,
                "subactions":
                [
                    {
                        "verb": "addSiteColumn",
                        "internalName": "PolicyOwner"
                    },
                    {
                        "verb": "addSiteColumn",
                        "internalName": "PolicyType"
                    },
                    {
                        "verb": "addSiteColumn",
                        "internalName": "PolicyExpiryDate"
                    }
                ]
            },
            {
                "verb": "createSPList",
                "listName": "Deliverable Documents",
                "templateType": 101,
                "subactions": [
                    {
                        "verb": "setDescription",
                        "description": "Project team can use this Deliverable Documents Library to store deliverable documents."
                    }
                ]
            },
            {
                "verb": "createSPList",
                "listName": "Tasks",
                "templateType": 107,
                "subactions": [
                    {
                        "verb": "setDescription",
                        "description": "Use the Tasks list to monitor and manage tasks within the Project."
                    }
                ]
            },
            {
                "verb": "createSPList",
                "listName": "Calendar",
                "templateType": 106,
                "subactions": [
                    {
                        "verb": "setDescription",
                        "description": "Use the Calendar list to track upcoming events and deadlines relevant to the Project."
                    }
                ]
            },
            {
                "verb": "createSPList",
                "listName": "Documents",
                "templateType": 101,
                "subactions": [
                    {
                        "verb": "addContentType",
                        "name": "Policy"
                    },
                    {
                        "verb": "addSPView",
                        "name": "By Policies",
                        "viewFields": 
                        [
                            "Name", 
                            "PolicyOwner",
                            "PolicyType",
                            "PolicyExpiryDate",
                            "Modified",
                            "Editor",
                            "Version"
                        ],
                        "query": "<OrderBy><FieldRef Name=\"Name\" Ascending=\"FALSE\" /></OrderBy><GroupBy Collapse =\"TRUE\"><FieldRef Name =\"PolicyType\"/></GroupBy><Where><Eq><FieldRef Name=\"ContentType\"/><Value Type=\"Computed\">Policy</Value></Eq></Where>",
                        "rowLimit": 100,
                        "isPaged": true,
                        "makeDefault": false
                    }
                ]
            },
            {
                "verb": "addNavLink",
                "url": "/Deliverable%20Documents",
                "displayName": "Deliverable Documents",
                "isWebRelative": true
            },
            {
                "verb": "addNavLink",
                "url": "/Lists/Tasks",
                "displayName": "Tasks",
                "isWebRelative": true
            },
            {
                "verb": "addNavLink",
                "url": "/Lists/Calendar",
                "displayName": "Calendar",
                "isWebRelative": true
            },
            {
                "verb": "joinHubSite",
                "hubSiteId": "18414d04-6d98-4295-a3e7-b92528130e5b",
                "name": "Information Services"
            },
            {
                "verb": "addPrincipalToSPGroup",
                "principal": "adam.tobias@devfacto.com",
                "group": "Owners"
            },    
            {
                "verb": "addPrincipalToSPGroup",
                "principal": "nameofsecuritygroup@devfacto.com",
                "group": "Owners"
            }, 
            {
                "verb": "addPrincipalToSPGroup",
                "principal": "nameofuser@devfacto.onmicrosoft.com",
                "group": "Members"
            }
        ],
            "bindata": { },
    "version": 1
}

Associate Site Script with Site Design

Next, we’ll need to then associate this to a Site Design. To do so, we can create Site Design and associate the Site Script by executing the PowerShell below:

 

$siteScriptFile = "\SiteScripts\IS-SiteScript.json"
# Source path where you stored your Site Scripts
$webTemplate = "64" 
#64 = Team Site, 68 = Communication Site, 1 = Groupless Team Site
$siteScriptTitle = "IS Project Site Script"
$siteDesignTitle = "IS Project Site Design"
$siteDesignDescription = "IS project site design with Content Types, Site Columns, additional libraries, lists, and creation of folders."
$previewImageUrl = "" # can be left blank or you can add a custom image.
$siteScript = (Get-Content $siteScriptFile -Raw | Add-SPOSiteScript -Title $siteScriptTitle) | Select -First 1 Id

Add-SPOSiteDesign -SiteScripts $siteScript.Id -Title $siteDesignTitle -WebTemplate $webTemplate -Description $siteDesignDescription 

 

If successful, the console will return the following result:

 

Console result for Associating Site Script with Site Design

 

Now that we have our Site Design and Site Script deployed in our Office 365 tenant, it can be programmatically executed by a user through PowerShell or REST. Users can create a new site by clicking Create Site and then selecting the right design.

 

Creating a new site in SharePoint based on Site Designs

 

Users can also apply the newly built site design to an existing site. To do so, the user would navigate to the site, click on the Settings icon on the top right corner, and click Site Designs.

 

Settings Menu in SharePoint Site design

 

A Site Design pane will appear on the right side of the screen showing you all the available site designs. Select a Site Design you want to apply to the existing site.

 

 

Then, click the Apply to Site button.

 

Available Site Dsigns - Progress Status

 

After clicking the Apply to site button, a progress bar will appear letting the user know what action was completed, is pending, or in the queue to perform.

 

IS Project Design Progress Bar

 

When all the actions are completed, the end user can click View updated site.

 

IS Project Site Desgin - Progress Bar Complete - SharePoint

 

The user will be directed to the updated site with configured actions applied from the Site Script that is associated to the chosen Site Design.

 

SharePoint Modern Site -Site Design

 

Another option mentioned earlier would be calling the Site Design programmatically through REST. Below is an example in Microsoft Flow using the Send an HTTP request to SharePoint action.

 

Microsoft Flow - Apply IS Site Design

 

This approach also makes it possible to restrict the users that can select and apply site designs to a site. Whether it’s a governance requirement or a security concern, whatever the reason may be, you can scope the Site Design to include defined users or security groups.

 

$adminSiteUrl = "https://tenant-admin.sharepoint.com"
$siteDesignId = " 8245449c-9d0f-4311-b2dc-8dcb2483cb01"
$principals = "Security Group Name", "user@mytenant.onmicrosoft.com"
$cred = Get-Credential
Connect-SPOService $adminSiteUrl -Credential $cred
Grant-SPOSiteDesignRights -Identity $siteDesignId -Principals $principals -Rights View
Get-SPOSiteDesignRights -Identity $siteDesignId

Why use SharePoint Site Designs and Site Scripts?

So, you’re probably asking yourself what are the advantages and disadvantages of Site Designs/Site Scripts? Let’s take a look below.

Benefits of using Site Designs and Site Scripts

  • They reduce time spent on effort intensive tasks by introducing automation
  • Once the Site Design and/or Site Script is published in your organization, the Site Champions or SMEs of the sites can apply it to their site. This means less time needed to configure a site.
  • The progress bar notifies the user about the stage the site provisioning is at. This is a better user experience than the past ‘Save site as a template’ approach.
  • Allows to define Site Designs/Site Scripts that have been configured by your IT personnel.
  • It can be re-applied to a site multiple times to ensure site is up to date to the latest Site Design/Site Script.
  • Allow to restrict a user or group that can see a Site Design/Site Script.
  • Allow the action to trigger Flow and expand from the limited actions.
  • Help standardize sites based on department use or purpose use.

Disadvantages

  • To create a Site Script, you’ll need to learn or understand JSON.
  • To create a Site Design, you’ll need to learn or understand PowerShell.
  • Depending on the IT policies in your organization, you might not be able to follow what was discussed in this blog post. You may need to consult your IT Administrator about setting up Site Scripts and Site Designs.
  • No out of the box user interface for a non-IT users to build Site Designs/Site Scripts.
  • Limited actions to handle complex provisioning needs.
  • Unable to create managed metadata columns that connect to the Term Store Management.

In conclusion, Site Designs/Site Scripts don’t replace SharePoint CSOM or PowerShell PnP, but rather bring another option to the table. You’ll need to determine if Site Designs and Site Scripts are right for your organization based on your requirements and how your organization addresses creating and applying changes to a site.

Personally, I think Site Designs and Site Scripts are quite powerful and love how the wizard-like interface makes it easy for users to apply to a new or existing site for easier adoption. The only thing that would make it better is a similar wizard-like experience for the creating Site Designs and Site Scripts. That way, users wouldn’t need to create JSON schema files for the Site Script and use PowerShell for the deploying of the Site Design.

I hope this post provided you with insights about the value of Site Designs and Site Scripts. If you would want to learn more about this topic, I’d love to chat over a perfect burger. Cheers!

Are folders in SharePoint Ancient Technology?

Over the last few decades, I’ve used many different types and brands of computers. I can still remember when I got my first one – it was a Sinclair ZX-81 – and my parents soon regretted the purchase because it monopolized our family TV set whenever I used it. While many things have changed in computers since then – from hardware, through operating systems, to storage – one thing has persevered: folders. Even now, decades later, folders are still commonly used to organize content. But, are they a relic from the past and is there still a place for them in the modern workplace? In this article, I will review the usage of folders in SharePoint, explore the reasons why they are discouraged and show you great alternatives to folders.

Regardless of the operating system and the implementation of folders, a folder is basically an empty container used in the file system. Users can easily add elements to folders such as sub-folders and files. In most cases, specific access permissions can be applied to folders. Since folders have existed for so long, we all are very familiar with them and use them intuitively on all of our devices and systems. Modern cloud-based environments – like SharePoint Online – also provide folders. They might be implemented differently under the hood, but the usage is almost the same.

If you are using SharePoint Online and Office 365, you may have heard recommendations to avoid using folders, and in my talks, I usually recommend avoiding folders as well. There are a lot of different options for when you want to phase out folders, and I’ve compiled them here to give you a one-stop guide to organizing SharePoint content.

Why do users continue using folders in SharePoint?

Before examining any options to reduce folders, let’s first look at SharePoint Online and the reasons why people continue to use folders. Here are some common use cases for SharePoint folders:

1. File share migration

Many organizations these days are migrating from corporate file shares to SharePoint Online. As a consultant, I am glad they do, because file shares don’t constitute a modern work environment. However, when corporate content is migrated from a file share to SharePoint Online, many users still think Folders. It’s what they are used to and it’s easy to imagine that switching to a different method of organizing content can be challenging as it requires a change of habit.

2. Lack of training and/or user-adoption

Some employees continue to use folders because they don’t know any better. Not all employees are tech-savvy or enjoy figuring things on their own. If nobody is telling them that there are different (and potentially better) methods for organizing content, why would users change their ways?

3. Established processes

Certain organizational departments (like Finance or Legal) tend to follow the same established processes for years, likely taking advantage of folders. For them, turning away from a dedicated folder structure requires altering their internal processes.

4. There are no better options for a specific use-case

Although I tell my clients to avoid folders whenever possible, I must admit that there are a few very specific use cases, where folders come in handy. Some reasons I have seen with customers include:

  • Metadata used to group content is by far too complex.
  • Temporarily grouping documents.
  • Assigning custom permissions to a specific set of documents.
  • Using external systems which rely on folders.

Why are experts discouraging the use of folders in SharePoint?

While there are many reasons why using folders in SharePoint Online isn’t a good idea, the following five are the most significant:

Technical issues

The URL length in SharePoint Online is limited to 400 characters, and any folder will add against this limit. Moving files from one folder to another will change the file’s URL will inadvertendly break links. Sometimes, documents can’t even be moved, because the new URL would exceed the limit.

Usability issues

To be honest, usability is my major concern. People can easily get lost in a nested folder structure. When a user navigates to the third or even the fourth level of folders, they quickly get lost. In addition, a nested folder structure is often the reason for an unintentional duplication of files because it’s easy for users to pick the wrong folder when uploading a file. What’s more, documents stored within a nested folder structure can cause confusion when listed in search results. The following example shows that only the folder navigation bar displayed next to the library’s name provides a glimpse of the current folder nesting level.

SharePoint nested folder usability

Inflexibility

A folder structure applied to a document library is what I like to call a hard-coded structure. Once users have created a nested folder structure within a document library, it is hard to change it. In most cases, this requires shifting documents from one folder to another or even moving a sub-folder. If you were ever tasked with changing an established folder structure in SharePoint, you know what I mean. Changing metadata tags is so much easier!

Security issues

Some users utilize folders in SharePoint to apply a customized set of permissions to specific files. Here is an example. A fictitious finance department stores all of its documents in a document library. However, access to some of the documents has to be limited to the department lead and the executives. So, the finance departament creates a folder with customized permissions to store those documents. If done in exceptional cases, this can be a viable option, but typically managing custom permissions in many folders quickly becomes a security nightmare that may lead to security breaches.

“Second offender”

One of the strengths of humans is to repeat and improve on what others did before. This also holds true for using folders. If a group of users starts to use folders and builds a folder structure, it is likely that other users will copy that approach without looking at better options. Often, this is called a bandwagon effect.

What are the alternatives to SharePoint folders?

Phasing out SharePoint folders requires considering internal structures and altering the way your organization works with content. While changes are often seen as disruptive to the daily business of employees, an organization that migrates to a modern work environment (like Office 365), should opt to leverage its benefits. Unfortunately, organizations won’t realize the gains from a modern digital workspace if the users continue operating as they did with the ancient technologies. That’s where user adoption campaigns come in to help employees adapt to change.

Use multiple document libraries/lists

Modern site templates in SharePoint usually provision just a single document library, but there is no reason why there couldn’t be multiple document libraries hosted within a site. In other words, don’t save all documents to a single document library. How? Let’s go back to the fictitious finance department from my previous example. Rather than adding a folder to the library, why not create a second document library meant exclusively for documents accessible by the department lead and the executives? This doesn’t take more time than creating a folder but provides a much clearer internal structure and reduces management efforts. The following image shows what this can look like on a modern Communication Site:Document Libraries in SharePoint

Use multiple sites

This suggestion is similar to the one above – this time, rather than adding a document library, we create a new site and link both sites via a hub-site. With this approach, you will be able to separate documents based on access policies, topics or target audiences. Instead of creating an internal structure within a site, think of broadening your structure by using multiple sites (i.e. Site Collections, not sub-sites). This approach would be my first choice if many additional document libraries are needed within a single site or if content has to be separated on a more global scale. Looking at our fictitious finance department example again, this approach would give us a site for common finance documents and an additional site for documents shared with the executives. As usual, managing access permissions can be done at the site level.

Use metadata

Folders are often used to group documents by topic, content or target audience. Rather than creating an internal folder structure, I recommend using Managed Metadata. Managed Metadata can be used to provide views within a document library allowing users to filter documents quickly. Certainly, this approach requires some planning of corporate metadata and content types, but in return, it offers many benefits such as improvements to search, LOB applications (e.g. workflows), and document management. The following image shows how this can look like:

Using metadata in SharePoint to organize content structure

Use document sets

Document sets are likely the most underrated feature in SharePoint. What are document sets? Think of them as a small containers for documents similar to the common file folder we use in offices to file printed sheets of paper. Although document sets are often used for the same purpose, they provide many additional benefits when compared to a folder.

Here is a quick list of benefits of document sets:

  • They let you define a list of allowed content types,
  • Metadata can be inherited from the document set to documents,
  • Welcome page can be used to provide an overview of the intended usage of the document set.

Those benefits allow organizations to ensure that corporate governance policies are followed. Folders do not provide these benefits at all. The good news is that document sets are available with modern sites and soon they will offer even better experience as they are currently being modernized. The following image shows the modern experience of a document set:

SharePoint Data Sets

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want my clients to get rid of folders in document libraries and lists completely. Folders are not a bad thing per se and there are certain cases where it makes sense to stick with them. On the other hand, I encourage my clients to think of alternatives which offer better user experience and increased efficiency. I want my clients to put their existing routines, procedures and structure to the test and to actively work on alternatives that align with a modern digital workplace. Based on my experiences, usually there are better options out there than staying with ancient folders.

Changing established habits takes effort, and in the case of SharePoint folders, the effort is well worth it.

Going back to my initial question “Are folders in SharePoint Ancient Technology”? Yes, they are! They are an obstacle to using modern technology efficiently and quite honestly, an excuse to not think about alternatives. However, in the rare scenarios where the use cases have been vetted and folders were deemed to be the best option, there is nothing wrong with using them on a limited basis.

User Adoption Matters – How to Succeed with Your Office 365 Rollout 

We all know that technology is evolving fast. In fact, new technology has never been released as frequently as it is now, and this couldn’t be more true for Office 365 and SharePoint Online. Since Microsoft came out with Office 365 in 2011, many organizations moved to the cloud platform recognizing the benefits for their business and their employees. In the time since, Microsoft released many updates and many additional applications to improve the usability of its cloud platform.

But for every light, there must be a shadow. While Microsoft works tirelessly to continue improving its Office 365 platform, organizations often struggle to keep up with Microsoft’s pace. A prominent example is the fast update-cycle of Office 365, which can cause issues when organizations introduce new technology to their employees and plan accompanying activities like user adoption and change management. For some organizations, planning and executing user adoption campaigns can take some time, and while the user adoption team is still working on the campaigns, newer features may already be added by Microsoft.

For most organizations, the step towards the cloud (Office 365 and SharePoint Online) is a significant step not only for the organization, but the entire staff as well. As a consultant, I realize this every time I assist organizations with migrating from file-shares to SharePoint Online. Quite often, organizations manage this transformation by augmenting a SharePoint Online rollout with user training. Unfortunately, activities that are proven to drive user adoption, such as internal user adoption campaigns and proper change management, sometimes take the backseat – much to the detriment of the staff. In this article, I’ll discuss how including them in your Office 365 or SharePoint Online rollout can drastically increase the user adoption rate.

Why Office 365 User Adoption Matters?

First, let’s have a look at why proper and tailored user adoption activities matter to every organization implementing Office 365 or SharePoint Online. They:

  • Protect organizational ROI. Rolling out a new technology not only takes effort, but also costs money. Most enterprises justify the project spend with a projected ROI (Return on invest). Because technological investment should generally lead to lowered operational costs and increased efficiency, it is in the vital interest of all organizations to ensure that new technology is used by the entire staff as expected.
  • Benefit the Employees. Modern technology should not only provide benefits to the organization, but also improve the daily work of employees. Unfortunately, this is where the problems begin. Not all employees embrace changes to their daily routines, even at a promise of easing the workload. While tech-savvy ones are eager to try out the new tools and updates, others may remain reluctant or hesitant to change. This is where user adoption campaigns really matter. Organizations can run them to ensure that the new technology is used by the entire staff as expected by the organization – without making employees feel imposed!

The way towards organization-wide user adoption can differ between organizations. When talking to executives and stakeholders about user adoption and change management, I often realize that many organizations think they provided proper user adoption activities by offering tailored training sessions and emailing corporate announcements regarding the new technology. But in most cases, that is far too little to ensure that the new tool is used as expected. User adoption is much more than just training and announcements. It is a long-term activity (or an internal project – if you want to put it that way), which requires extensive planning.

Build a Office 365 User Adoption Team

It all starts with establishing a user adoption team as any user adoption campaign needs to be handled like an internal project. Here is a high-level list of roles within a user-adoption team, which should be adjusted based on your corporate culture:

  • Adoption Team Lead: Responsible for managing the user-adoption team, planning tasks and scheduling meetings.
  • Moderator(s): Responsible for planning and performing user-adoption campaigns. In most cases, it makes sense to involve Power Users or Key Users. I recommend involving professional moderators or at least employees who are used to public speaking (or have stage experience).
  • Communicator(s): Responsible for all communication around the user-adoption activities. I recommend a professional communicator as the style of communication needs to be engaging, enthralling and carefully tailored to the target audience.
  • Technical Expert(s): Responsible for technical support, knowledge transfer and measurement of the identified success factors (as explained later). Often, Office 365 admins take over this role.
  • Trainer(s): Responsible for delivering accompanying training sessions.
  • Executive(s) and Stakeholder(s): Part of the team to highlight the importance of user adoption and to ensure that organizational interests are considered.
  • Corporate Governance Committee: Although the Governance Committee does not need to take over an active role, keeping them up to date on planning and the current state allows them to chime in if there are any corporate policies which need to be considered.

Establish Goals

If we look at the user adoption team, it becomes clear that a user adoption campaign isn’t a one-time activity like training. Rather, it’s an ongoing process, that strives to accomplish several goals:

  • Introduce a new technology to employees in a way which is tailored to their skill set and technical abilities.
  • Provide individual examples on how to use the introduced technology based on roles and responsibilities.
  • Focus on the benefits that employees can achieve by using the new technology, in other words: show how this new technology can be used to meet individual goals.
  • Explain how the technology fits corporate strategy.

Out of all these, the most important one is certainly focusing on benefits that matter to employees, as it is likely that not all employees will embrace changes to their daily routines. From an organizational standpoint, user adoption activities need to ensure that new technology is used as planned. From the user’s perspective, new technology will affect the daily business and most employees are primarily interested in “what is in it for me,” rather than what are the benefits the organization is hoping to achieve. Basically, this discrepancy is the reason, why user-adoption campaigns are crucial.

So, What Can You Do to Drive Office 365 User Adoption?

Here are some proven tactics:

  • Schedule events to introduce the new technology to all employees. These events should offer a high-level overview of the solution that explains the intended use of the technology and its place within existing applications and procedures.
  • Schedule meetings with individual departments to showcase how employees of particular departments will benefit from using the new technology. Since requirements vary between departments, user adoption activities should be designed to address needs specific to different roles.
  • Use gamification. Create a buzz around your technology and get your employees involved early on. You can try panel games, quizzes or digital scavenger-hunts to draw the attention to the new technology. The most important thing is to be creative and engaging. Based on my long-standing experience, gamification works wonders if done properly.
  • Perform surveys throughout the course of the user adoption campaign to get a sense of how your employees are using the new technology and gauge if the campaign is working.
  • Identify success factors and proper measurements. For example, if you run a user adoption campaign for a OneDrive for Business roll-out, a success factor could be a 50% increase of the data stored to OneDrive for Business accounts within three (3) months of implementation.
  • Offer individual training for employees struggling with using the introduced technology.
  • Schedule recurring monitoring that continues even after the user-adoption campaign has ended. It is important to continue measuring how the introduced technology is used during the coming months.
  • Work with the corporate help desk to understand inquiries and tickets related to the introduced technology. Although an increased number of inquiries is common, too many inquiries are an indicator that the user adoption campaign isn’t working well or isn’t meeting your audience’s needs or expectations.

Finally, when it comes to user adoption, there is no one-fits-all approach. Organizations are diverse, as are their employees. A proper user adoption campaign needs to be tailored to the corporate culture, the skill sets of employees and most importantly, the expected benefits for individual users. Proper user adoption campaign is crucial for rolling out any new technology. Training is just an accompanying activity rather than a replacement for user adoption and change management. For that reason, the cost of a tailored user adoption campaign needs to be added to the costs of the new technology and the corporate rollout. However, when a user adoption campaign is planned and executed properly, these additional costs will pay off soon helping secure a timely ROI.

Additional Resources: 

It’s more than just a meeting room.

You may have heard that we’ve been renovating our Edmonton office. Thankfully, the construction is done and we’re finally ready for the big reveal! And while there are plenty of interesting new features in our newly expanded office, there’s one space I’m most excited about: our new Ideation room.

What’s Ideation, you might ask, and why does it require a dedicated space? Come to think of it, why would someone get excited about a meeting room? The answers to these questions lay in the process of great software design.

Over the years of building award-winning software, we came to a realization that there’s a piece missing from a typical application development project. Time and time again, we saw businesses arrive with an established idea of what they needed, only to realize once the project was complete, that their new, beautiful, functional solution didn’t quite propel the organization forward. It became clear to us that standard requirements gathering sessions are rarely enough to really understand the problems any business is facing. All the focus on features, functionality, and technology causes people to overlook what’s really important: user satisfaction and tangible value to the organization. Our customers needed a better way to translate real-world pains into solutions that made a difference. They needed solutions that humans would love to use.

So, instead of gathering requirements we flipped the model and we began hunting for the root causes behind them. We based our approach on our shared experiences and drew inspiration from the Design Thinking and Service Design methodologies. This led us to developing an Ideation workshop, a process that’s become a foundation for our customer’s success.

What is Ideation?

At DevFacto, Ideation is a collaborative process we use to facilitate our customers’ innovative thinking and problem solving. It helps us uncover the ideal solution through a series of exercises that shift the perception of the challenges at hand. Through a mix of convergent and divergent techniques it explores opportunities and reveals the hidden value within any organization. And by bringing cross-functional teams together, it encourages collaboration and idea-sharing without long, drawn out meetings.

As cognitive science proves, humans are hardwired to think convergently. When faced with a challenge, we want to come up with a single, well-established, logical answer. We constantly narrow down the options until we arrive at the right solution. Once we have it, we head straight to executing. Any alternative solutions that were discovered in the process end up discarded.

While that is a great approach for hacking away at day-to-day tasks, it doesn’t encourage meaningful change in an organization nor allow for innovative thinking. When we go straight from the perceived problem to the seemingly obvious solution, we skim over pain points and miss perspectives that can fundamentally alter our vision for the future.

Our ideation process disrupts the typical approach to solving problems by bringing people together and affording them the chance to think collaboratively in different modes while driving alignment around the most powerful ideas.

Over the years, Ideation has helped our clients realize numerous benefits  – from experimenting and testing ideas before setting them in motion, to reimagining user experience, boosting customer satisfaction, and cracking new markets.

Software Ideation Session

Why do we need an Ideation room?

Meetings, deservedly, have a bad rep and the typical conference room design only escalates this problem. Large conference tables lower meeting engagement, while poor flow discourages collaboration – both of which are critical to creativity and innovative thinking. We are creatures of our environments far more often than we think. Which is why a new approach to the space is so powerful. We wanted to create a space that transforms the mindset and inspires fresh ideas. One that changes the expected meeting dynamic and gets everyone active, working, and exploring. By setting the stage for ambitious collaboration, our ideation room does just that.

We’ve built it with creative, brainstorming sessions in mind, so it’s is full of light and bright workable space. Writable surfaces all around the room facilitate idea sharing, while standing-height desks help get people moving and collaborating. Although the typical conference room fare – long conference table and chairs – is gone, we kept some uber-comfortable high stools to maximize accessibility. And because Ideation sessions can get quite intense, we’ve added a lounge area just outside the room so that the participants can recharge when it’s time to take a break.

Just last week, I facilitated my first workshop in the new space with one of our clients that’s looking to deliver a WOW experience to their end-users. Being a part of an Ideation workshop held in a space designed to foster empathy and common understanding among teams was eye-opening to everyone involved. We saw inspiring ideas spring to life but also witnessed a diverse, cross-functional team come together in an unexpected way. For this group, looking at a business problem in a new way, in a completely different type of environment brought results that went beyond what we could anticipate.

Powerful ideas are just around the corner, and sometimes a special kind of meeting in an entirely different space is just what’s needed to find them.

The Invisible Trap of Stale Ideas

It’s a bit surreal to be in a room full of people excited about a new initiative you’re all a part of, and to realize that every idea put forward is not only uninspiring, but it could have been pulled straight from the pages of the very system the team is trying to replace. Read more

Recap: Mastering the SharePoint Framework with Andrew Connell

Last week, DevFacto Academy hosted SharePoint MVP Andrew Connell for his ‘Mastering the SharePoint Framework Course’ in Edmonton. This 4-day course walked our team through building and deploying custom code using the new SharePoint Framework which was introduced to SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2016. Read more

The Metadata Battle:  Providers vs. Consumers

As a result of working with SharePoint throughout the majority of my career, I’ve earned plenty of experience  implementing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems.  In most cases, one of the first topics covered during these engagements is usually a challenging one: metadata, or rather, “What should be included in metadata?” Read more